general education,  higher ed,  Television

The radical Ted Lasso lesson for education

I know, I know. There are few things more tedious than taking a popular TV show and applying it to a sector – there have been “Manage the Ted Lasso Way” and “The Ted Lasso method of Leadership” type posts aplenty. But hear me out. The angle here is more about the writing and how it relates to traditional TV than Lasso himself (and no, you don’t have to be a fan of the show).

So Ted Lasso ended last week, amidst a wave of pieces declaring that it was about time and it had in fact, been rubbish all along. I think TV critics sometimes fall in love with a series, and then become embarrassed at a later date at their weakness in showing humanity, so double down on the need for cynicism. You certainly saw that in pieces like this in the Guardian (they also bad mouth The Good Place to demonstrate their anti-nice credentials). I’m not going to defend it as TV, it was a bit corny and sentimental, and I think it had run its course.

But I think the critics miss how unusual it is in its writing. The Guardian piece bemoans that all the drama takes place off screen (eg Nate leaving West Ham), as if this is accidental. I see it as a deliberate and radical attempt to subvert our expectations of conflict and confrontation. Conflict drives so much of TV, and often lazily so. Nearly all of soaps such as Eastenders is driven by people doing nasty things to each other and shouting a lot. It’s stressful to watch. I had a similar reservation when watching the classic of the ‘nice’ genre, Parks and Rec. When the Rob Lowe character was introduced I was gearing myself up for conflict. I knew how this would go – he would be controlling, try to close them down, there’d be tension. But of course, that wasn’t what that show was about, and his character became an integral and likeable part of the show.

This is difficult writing – conflict is easy. The saying that happiness writes in white ink on a white page should be seen as a challenge, not an admission of defeat.

Which brings me to education. When people talk of a ‘pedagogy of care’ I think it can seem a bit woolly, maybe a bit hippy. But it’s actually a radical notion in the same way that producing a drama that centres kindness is radical. Gita Mehrotra talks about care as a pedagogical anchor, and says that “I especially had concerns about students not taking the course seriously, being seen as a push-over, or being perceived as an ineffective instructor.” This was during the pandemic and her focus on “flexibility, humanity, community care, and personal and family health” were reciprocated by students with greater engagement.

Rose and Adams remind us that there are implications for the educators also, with burnout, the tyranny of always on demand and over-demanding students as possible factors. In addressing the question “who cares for the teachers?” Maha Bali emphasises the institutional role in creating environments that facilitate this. Care begets care I guess.

In my last post I was asking the question (which Dave Cormier neatly summarised in the comments) “If AI is good at repetitive things, and we’re not going to do them anymore, how are we going to design things that aren’t repetitive?” The whole education system needs to look quite different. And similarly, using care as a pedagogical anchor raises big questions – what does assessment look like? How does funding work in such a system? What are the external quality assessments for care?

Like Ted Lasso, a pedagogy of care can look vague, even bland on the surface, but if you scratch that surface you find a beating heart of radical reform beneath.


  • D'Arcy Norman

    I whole-heartedly love Ted Lasso. The show, the writing, the characters, the pacing, and the flaws. What a gift, to have a great show that is based on humans being human, on care and connection and trust and love. The world is a better place, for having this show in it – especially in an era where entertainment seems to be all about zombies and plagues and fungi and treachery and scheming and humans-hurting-for-profit. We need more of The Richmond Way.

    • mweller

      Hi D’Arcy. Very much agree – you’ve got to be trying hard to be cool and cynical not to love the programme. And congrats on the doctorate!

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